I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll be a controlling husband.” It was a slow process that began innocently enough.
Isn’t it amazing how much baggage we bring into our marriage? We realize we’re replaying tapes from the past, but they’re programmed into us so deeply that it takes more than mind over matter to change our thinking and actions.
I hear these comments from clients all the time: “I didn’t sign up for this.” “If I had known he would get this jealous, I never would have married him.” In most cases, there’s more than enough baggage to go around on both sides. Clients may say they understand that “he got it from his father” or “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” However, understanding is not enough to alleviate the resentment they feel.
I learned to be anxious from my mom. Think about your childhood and adolescence. What baggage from your youth affects your marriage today? Identify at least three tendencies you brought to the marriage that create difficulty in your relationship. Ask yourself if you’re spending more time criticizing your partner for his baggage than you are dealing with your own.
Anxiety: Bad Things Can Be Prevented
Most controlling men spend a lot of time driven by the fear that something bad will happen to them if they don’t take steps to prevent it. For some, it is because they felt out of control as a child and never want to feel that way again. Others lost something or someone dear to them and want to do everything possible to prevent that from happening again
I spent much of my life as one of those guys. I would do whatever was within my power to prevent a bad thing from happening. A lot of controlling men live in this fear-driven, anxious reality.
At some point, bad things happen anyway. Car accidents happen no matter how safely you drive. People die no matter how much you try to protect them. The belief that we can prevent all bad things from happening is a fantasy, but if a man delays or interferes with enough negative events, he can begin to believe he can influence things that are really in God’s realm.
Most of the bravado and dominance in the controlling husband’s behavior is due to the underlying insecurity and fear for which he is compensating.
I don’t know about you, but when I heard my dad shout my middle name, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. My dad didn’t always seem to have a clear reason for being angry. Sometimes, I think I was just around at the wrong time and was the most convenient target.
I remember getting pretty angry myself, but I don’t recall this causing me difficulty until I started dating. When romantic adolescent feelings were combined with anger and jealousy, then control became a problem. It become so much easier to get angry than to deal with my emotions.
Looking back now, what frustrates me is that most of my anger as an adult has been either misplaced or completely unnecessary. When something upset me and I felt insecure or uncomfortable, the easiest way to respond was to get angry. Sometimes it was something small, like a young child making noise in the pew behind me in church. I became a perfectionist who wasn’t satisfied with anything.
I’ve seen friends, colleagues, and clients behave the same way. You have to work much harder to stay calm and think of other people when you’re frustrated. It takes much less effort to simply be angry and assume anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault. Now I realize if things do go wrong, my angry response is a matter of choice. I can blame someone else for the problem (anger) or blame myself for the problem (personal responsibility).
I was successful in school, music, athletics, and leadership in my church and service organizations. My insecurity was focused on what girls, and later women, thought of me. My self-esteem with the opposite sex was not strong, and when I did find the courage to ask a girl out, I was often turned down.
When I did have relationships with girls in high school, they betrayed me in various ways several times. I had trouble trusting new relationship and became gun-shy. My anger and anxiety combined with my insecurity created my first steps into controlling behavior in a relationship.
In college I became jealous, controlling, hyper vigilant, and overbearing with the women I dated. These relationships didn’t last long. Once the women realized how I was treating them, they quickly disengaged. Some of them tried to confront me; others left. But I didn’t learn from these experiences. By the time I met my future wife, Jan, I was convinced I needed to maintain as much control as possible in a relationship to prevent things from going wrong. I wanted to be loved but I couldn’t trust that a relationship could last.
Why This Should Give You Hope
My controlling behavior may not sound exactly like that of your husband, but probably there are elements that match. I believe the three factors of anxiety, anger, and insecurity are the keys to understanding why men control their wives. Most of the bravado and dominance in the controlling husband’s behavior is due to the underlying insecurity and fear for which he is compensating. But when a husband understand the reasons he acts the way he does, the chances of his changing and becoming the husband he is capable of being are greatly increased. He’ll be able to transform his marriage, just as I did.
Copyright © 2014 Dr. Ron Welch, published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group,Used by permission.